8 Essential Steps to Nailing Your First Strict Muscle Up

strict muscle up During one of the breaks at my Level 1 Certification I remember watching the Big Dogs jump up on the rings, each of them banging out a series of kipping muscle ups.

I was blown away. I’d never seen that before…and it was awesome!

Then another guy stepped up and said “Yeah, but can you do it strict?” He then proceeded to hop up, set a false grip, and then slowly pull up and over the rings.

It was absolutely gorgeous. Majestic even, like a unicorn with a flowing mullet, pulling an American flag across a rainbow. And man, I wanted that.

Learn to Do it Strict For Long Term Progress

The muscle up is one of the holy grails for beginners. Most people just can’t wait to get their first one because that particular set of skills (to put it in Liam Neeson terms) is an almost tangible divide for most Crossfitters. Can you do a muscle up or not? Are you in or are you out?

The good news is that if you already have a decent amount of upper body strength, then you can probably just learn to false grip and then kip one out. But the less-good news is that ONLY doing kipping muscle ups won’t get you any stronger. In order to get stronger, you need to learn and practice how to do a strict muscle up from a dead hang.  If you can do one strict muscle up, you can bang out at least three kipping ones. Here is the progression that I use to teach strict muscle ups in our box.

1) Basic Requirements

You need to be able to do 3 dead hang pullups.

2) Mobility

Getting warmed up and prepared for the range of motion required for the strict muscle up is important.  Here are four pieces that I have pulled or adapted from MobilityWod.com.  You don’t have to do all of them before you train; 2-3 held for 1-2 minutes per side should be sufficient.

  • Overhead band distraction
  • Prone bully stretch with kettlebell assist
  • Thoracic spine foam roll
  • Skin the cat or modified skin the cat

For more in-depth information, take a look at the original MobilityWOD videos that these movements were adapted from:

Episode 53
Episode 122 

3) Dip

There’s a two item “Things to Get Good At” list:

  • Ring support – Holding at top with full extension at elbow in 10-15s increments
  • Ring dips – Full range of motion, either with a band or unassisted

4) Transition

Focus on doing slow, tight negatives correctly before turning it around and working positives.  When you are ready to start doing positives, remember that going back up on the positive side should feel exactly like when you came down on the negative.  And keep that those thumb knuckles in contact with your torso at all times.

5) False Grip & Pullup

Setting a good false grip makes hitting that transition a lot easier, because it sets you up to go right into the dip.

6) Putting the Pieces Together

Put the three elements together (pullup+transition+dip) to start doing modified muscle ups.

7) Full Version

Once you get good at the seated L-muscle ups, you can give it a shot on full-height rings.

8) Programming

If you’ve already got the requisite strength (the ability to do dips and pullups) you should just be able to practice making the transitions tight with the seated muscle ups and then be able to do strict muscle ups after a week or two.  If you don’t have that strength base just yet, you are going to have to train consistently (3-6 times per week) for 4-6 weeks.  Build up time in the support, build up your dips, work your transitions, and work your seated muscleups.  Laddering your reps 1-2-3-1-2-3 is a great way to get in volume without burning yourself out. Either way, a few weeks of consistent practice and you’ll be the one people are watching on the rings, each of them thinking “Dang, I wish I could do that.”

Working on that first strict muscle up and have a question?  Already got one and have some advice?  Sound off in the comments.

[Originally published 10/30/12.  Revised and updated 9/2/14]